Though they are one of a few NFL teams to have never won a Super Bowl, the Bengals still have a decorated history. Many talented players have come and gone, even during the team's version of The Great Depression, also known as the "lost decade" from 1992-2002.
Before the onset of 2015 Training Camp, we've decided to crack open the franchise's history books and attempt to create the ultimate team. It's likely that some snubs might cause a stir, but what else are opinions for? Let's take a shot at the offense to create the ultimate historical Bengals team.
Given the team's somewhat historical usage of the two running back system, as opposed to most teams today using three wideouts consistently, we'll go the former route when building this team. Though the Bengals currently employ a three-wide attack at times with A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones, it's Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard who will have a big focus again in 2015.
Starter, Boomer Esiason: The heck, you say! Yes, many would clamor for fringe Hall of Fame quarterback Ken Anderson (and understandably so), but there are a few things that bring me back to Esiason. Being a former coach and athlete myself, I dig the fiery leadership that Boomer brought to the Bengals--especially since it comes from one of the most important positions in professional sports. I also look at the more consistent period of Bengals success with Esiason under center. Esiason had three Pro Bowl seasons (one also with a League MVP designation) in a four-year period (1986, 1988, 1989). Not coincidentally, the Bengals also had two postseason berths in five seasons under Esiason's watch, mostly coinciding with those Pro Bowl campaigns (1988, 1990). Esiason also had a better playoff record than Anderson at 3-2. Was there anyone who was better at selling the play-action fake than Esiason?
Backup, Ken Anderson: He himself was an MVP and brought the Bengals to their first Super Bowl appearance. Anderson has long-hovered around the Hall of Fame, though it looks like he'll be left out. His long career with the Bengals, filled with peaks and valleys, is one of the better periods in team history. He had 29 more wins than Esiason and played in six more seasons with the Bengals, which compiling a 2-4 postseason record. If one were to try and persuade me on Anderson over Boomer, I could be convinced.
No. 1, Corey Dillon: Imagine if Dillon had any kind of quarterback stability and/or an overall roster that today's Bengals team can boast. If you're having a hard time doing so, take a look at his stats in three seasons with the Patriots, as opposed to his seven with the Bengals. Dillon is the Bengals' all-time leader in career rushing yards and comes in third in rushing touchdowns. While with the Bengals, Dillon also set the NFL's single -game rookie rushing record and single-game rushing record, which have since been broken. Though his relationship was always fractured with the team, Dillon was a force when he had guys like Paul Justin, Scott Mitchell, Jon Kitna, Neil O'Donnell and Akili Smith quarterbacking the offense.
No. 2, James Brooks: What a fun player ol' No. 21 was to watch. After the team engineered a brilliant trade with the Chargers to bring him to Cincinnati, Brooks scored 54 touchdowns (37 rushing, 27 receiving), had 9,459 yards from scrimmage (6447 rushing, 3012 receiving) and had a 4.8 yards-per-carry-average. Brooks made the Pro Bowl four times in a five-year period and was a major catalyst to the team's success in 1988 and 1990. He was a true dual threat in an era where running backs were mostly one-dimensional.
Backup, Rudi Johnson: Though he was in Cincinnati for seven seasons, Johnson really only saw extensive playing time in five of those years. Four of those five seasons were outstanding, including 45 rushing touchdowns and Johnson holds the team's single-season rushing record with his 2005 total of 1,458. Could that be in jeopardy 10 years later with Jeremy Hill in 2015?
No. 1 A.J. Green: Sure, he's only entering his fifth year, but even if he leaves in 2016 (or 2017 if franchise tagged), Green is shaping up to be one of the best draft picks in team history. He's had 1,000 yard receiving seasons in each of his four accrued seasons and is averaging almost nine touchdowns a season. If he stays healthy and with the Bengals, they could be looking at their second Hall of Fame player when all is said and done.
No. 2 Chad Johnson: A couple things to clarify here. First, my preference is to Chad Johnson, not Ochocinco, as his best years came as the former, not the latter. Second, I'm still having a very difficult time putting Johnson over Carl Pickens. It's just too hard to pass up the team career-leader in every major receiving category, not to mention the single-season receiving yardage record. Why doesn't he beat out Green? Physical stature and ability, attitude and consistency issues. Still, you can't argue the dominance Johnson displayed from 2003-2007.
Honorable Mention, Carl Pickens: Like Dillon, imagine Pickens on the present day Bengals team. In three of his best seasons, Pickens had more touchdown receptions in single seasons than Johnson ever had, ranging from 11-17 in a given year. Also like Dillon, Pickens publicly got fed up with the 1990s Bengals because of the instability at quarterback, coaching ineptitude and a lack of overall talent on the roster. If Pickens had Carson Palmer or even Andy Dalton under center, his four outstanding seasons out of eight in Cincinnati could have been far more consistent and frequently-occurring.
Honorable Mention, Isaac Curtis: The original "85" epitomized the deep threat and helped to revolutionize the position which evolved into the role it possesses today. Curtis made the Pro Bowl in his first four seasons and is the second-leading receiver in team history with 7,101 yards. He's third in the team's career touchdown receptions behind both Johnson and Pickens and likely would have had even more impressive stats had he played in the 16-game era that exists today.
Left Tackle, Anthony Munoz: He's the best player in Bengals history. If this selection needs to be explained, well, go home--you're drunk.
Right Tackle, Willie Anderson: Yet another under-appreciated Bengals player because of the misfortune of playing in the middle of the worst span of any NFL team ever, Anderson was a consistently dominant player on the right side. He was a mauler in the run game and was undervalued in pass protection. He finally began to get his due in the form of four Pro Bowl berths when the team experienced a renaissance under Marvin Lewis. Anderson anchored some of the team's best rushing performances by Dillon, and would have had more Hall of Fame chatter surrounding him if he hadn't played for the mid-1990s Bengals.
Honorable Mention, Andrew Whitworth: Another under-appreciated lineman in a long line of them, Whitworth has been the victim of other former high picks in the AFC overshadowing his performances. He isn't the athlete or talent Munoz was, but has been one of the best players by metrics standards in this era. He also has shown prowess at guard and is both an outstanding pass protector and run blocker.
Right Guard, Max Montoya: While he and Munoz had awesome twin mustaches, they also were two of the best lineman in team history (both from Southern California Universities, by the way!). Montoya arrived in Cincinnati before Munoz and anchored the interior of the line for 11 years. His stint with the Bengals included three Pro Bowls, as well as another with the Raiders toward the end of his career and was a critical cog in the awesome running attack the Bengals employed throughout the 1980s. The Bengals haven't traditionally valued guards very highly, but if they happen to stumble upon another one like Montoya, they would be quite fortunate.
Left Guard, Eric Steinbach: In only four seasons with the Bengals, Steinbach goes down as one of the better offensive linemen in team history. He was incredibly athletic for his size and was a consistent Pro Bowl snub during the Bengals' offensive explosion in the mid-2000s. Steinbach was a strong pass protector and helped pave the way for an effective final season from Dillon, as well as the franchise record-setting years from Rudi Johnson.
Starter, Bruce Kozerski: Perhaps the biggest reason for the Bengals' success throughout the 1980s was their offensive line. While Munoz and Montoya got the lion's share of the credit, Kozerski was another invaluable player. He anchored the center position for 12 seasons and was a heady, solid player. He too, experienced the pain of the early 1990s with the Bengals, but is still considered one of the better linemen in team history.
Honorable Mention, Bob Johnson: Coined as the "original Bengal", Johnson was a Pro Bowl player in his rookie season and represents the only jersey the team has retired to this very day. Johnson played 12 seasons for the Bengals and one knock on him could be that he was not the center for either Super Bowl team like Kozerski was in 1988.
Starter, Bob Trumpy: Another tough call here, but Trumpy was a big-time threat in the early days of the franchise and leads the team's tight ends in receiving yards (4,600) and touchdowns (35). In the 1960s-1970s era of the NFL, a premium was placed on the running game and on tight ends (John Mackey, anyone?). Trumpy was an integral part of Ken Anderson's development and made three Pro Bowls.
Honorable Mention, Rodney Holman: Nipping at the franchise tight end career receiving records held by Trumpy is Holman, one of the best players at the position in the 1980s. Holman does have three Pro Bowls as well and has more receptions than Trumpy in team history. Like the Esiason/Anderson debate, I, along with many others, could be swayed to flip-flop the two.
Starter, Pete Johnson: Some see Johnson as a bit of a disappointment and was part of one of the best trades in team history, but the big guy was adept as both a lead blocker and a runner. Johnson was a Pro Bowl player for the Bengals who was also great in short-yardage and goal line situations. Johnson amassed 64 rushing touchdowns (along with six receiving touchdowns) in his Bengals career, garnering him the franchise record for career rushing touchdowns. Some might consider him a true running back, but he was a lead blocker for guys like Larry Kinnebrew, Archie Griffin and Boobie Clark. Johnson also had the build of a true fullback at 6'0", 252 pounds.
Honorable Mention, Lorenzo Neal: In just two seasons with the Bengals, Neal also garnered a Pro Bowl berth. In 2002, Neal cracked skulls to pave the way for another quality Dillon year and would run through a wall for his backs. His lack of tenure with the team, along with lack of offensive stats, puts him in the back seat to Johnson.